By Barb Arland-Fye
We arrived at the airport separately — two priests, a deacon, a journalist and lay leaders — eager to welcome three Latin American sisters who are devoting the next five years of their lives to ministry in Columbus Junction and West Liberty.
From a distance, Father Rudolph Juarez spotted Father Guillermo Trevino escorting the sisters from the concourse to the terminal. They smiled when Father Rudy waved and called out to Father Guillermo. The sisters had met Father Rudy in August, when he and then-Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula visited them in Guatemala in preparation for their ministry in Iowa.
Sister Maria de los Angeles Gumara Mejia Chacon (“Mara”), Sister Maria de los Angeles Martinez Quineros (“Marielos”) and Sister Veronica Elizabeth Argumedo Mungia (“Veronica”) looked like typical travelers — wearing comfortable shirts and slacks. Two of them carried guitar cases over their shoulders. Although they had begun their journey at 1:30 a.m. that morning (Oct. 16) in Guatemala, the sisters were bright-eyed and smiled warmly.
Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities, and Miguel Moreno, diocesan director of Multicultural Ministry, were at the Quad Cities International Airport in Moline, Illinois, to greet the sisters as well. Deacon Kent assists Father Guillermo, the pastor of St. Joseph parishes in Columbus Junction and West Liberty. The sisters, who are members of the religious community Misioneras Cruzadas de la Iglesia, will make their home in the unoccupied rectory in the Columbus Junction parish.
Catalina Valdez, the parish’s religious education director, also arrived at the airport to greet the sisters. She will serve as the “madrina” (godmother) to the sisters. Completing the welcoming crew at the airport were Bertha Lopez of the Columbus Junction parish and Maria Lopez, the bookkeeper for the Columbus Junction and West Liberty parishes, and her mom, Genoveva Aragon.
Sisters Mara, Marielos and Veronica greeted each of us with warm hugs, as if we were extended members of their own families. Outside the airport, we pulled out our smart phones to snap photos, taking turns to get group shots. Father Guillermo, the king of “selfies,” pulled out his camera, extended his arm and snapped a photo that included everybody.
The men grabbed the sisters’ luggage and our caravan of vehicles headed over the glistening blue Mississippi River to Iowa. We arrived at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport just before the dinner hour. Father Rudy, the pastor, gave a quick tour. Inside the church, we prayed and reflected for a few minutes and, of course, took more photos!
Sister Mara addressed us in Spanish, with Father Rudy translating in English. “She said they come with great joy to the United States to share the Good News of the Gospel.” Father Rudy told the gathering that when he met the sisters in Guatemala, “I saw their tenderness with the people. They shared the very best of themselves with the people. My hope is that the encounters they have here with the people will (lead) to an openness to the Spirit. We receive the sisters with their joy and energy and many thanks.”
Their ministry is a gift made possible through the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, a partnership between Catholic Extension and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Both the parishes and towns they will serve in our diocese have majority Hispanic populations.
Catholic Extension chose our diocese for the exchange program based on our desire to serve a growing Hispanic population.
Father Rudy led us to the parish hall, where we sat down to a delicious meal of tortillas, refried beans, rice, salad, soup and fruit. While the sisters are in “new territory,” as Sister Marielos described it, she senses the spirit of fraternity and closeness. Sister Veronica said the warm welcome gave her a sense of joy and being with family. The warmth and affection also stood out for Sister Mara. She and the sisters, she said, are here to bring a fraternal spirit to the people they serve.
(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)